It was last month when Kathy Hahn and her friend, also named Kathy, stood in a snaking line for hours decked out in “Trump Pence 2016” buttons, waiting to enter a sports arena to catch a glimpse of Donald Trump before the election season ended. Hahn was skeptical about talking to a reporter: “Please don’t write lies,” she asked me.
Hahn is an administrative assistant from Newtown, Bucks County, which is one of Pennsylvania’s critical outside-Philly swing counties where both presidential candidates have traveled to rally with supporters in the voter-rich area. Hahn couldn’t understand why “mainstream media” says suburban white women don’t support Trump.
“I’ve been behind him since the beginning,” she said. “He’s not politically correct, but he’s going to clean up corruption in Washington.” As for Hahn’s friend, Kathy Verrecchia, the answer was even simpler. She said of Clinton: “She’s a criminal, and she didn’t get in trouble for it.”
These are the women — and there are plenty on Clinton’s side, too — who have been among some of the most courted voters in the country. This was the year of the suburban Philly woman.
The Philadelphia suburbs are always essential for a presidential candidate, and the state that’s become a central part of Donald Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes, is won and lost there. A third of the state’s 8.2 million registered voters live in Philadelphia and the four counties that surround it: Delaware, Chester, Bucks and Montgomery. In 2012, just those four counties made up 22 percent of the statewide vote.
Philadelphia is safely blue with its 8-to-1 Democratic party registration advantage. Democrats will also likely win Pittsburgh by landslide margins. Meanwhile, the “T” region of the state, or everything that’s not Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas, is pretty red. That means that statewide races can be decided by the hundreds of thousands of voters in the Philadelphia suburbs, which has gone more blue in recent years. Pennsylvania hasn’t elected a Republican president in a general election since 1988.
In 2012, Obama lost Chester County to Mitt Romney by half a point. But the president won Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery. And polls have showed Clinton polling better than Trump in those counties. A Bloomberg poll in October showed she held a nine-point lead in Pennsylvania, but a 28-point lead in the Philadelphia suburbs.
There, eight in 10 voters said they had a problem with the 2005 Access Hollywood tape released in October that showed Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. After that, more than 10 women came forward to say they were groped by Trump. That Bloomberg poll, though, found Trump was leading almost everywhere else in Pennsylvania. But that doesn’t really matter. Presidential candidates can’t get trounced in the suburbs.
“I don’t know how you win if you lose the suburbs by a certain percentage,” said Terry Madonna, a Franklin and Marshall pollster. “You can’t lose by 20 points.”
But the Philadelphia suburbs have, for more than a decade, been important to a candidate’s path to winning Pennsylvania. This time around, the focus was even more pointed: Women.
In the year of Trump versus potentially the first woman president in history, women across the country have become a vital voting bloc for both sides. In the Philadelphia suburbs where educated, white women make up a large chunk of the population, that’s even more true.
Take Weekend Update, for example:
National news organizations have done think-pieces solely on women in the Philadelphia suburbs. They’ve been the subject of focus groups and polling. The New York Times sat with a group of women in Berwyn, Chester County during the first presidential debate and gathered their thoughts on Trump’s performance. Long story short, they were’t fans — but the photo on top of the story says it all.
The media blitz when it comes to women in the Philly suburbs was substantiated by the amount of attention paid by both presidential candidates (and, for that matter, both U.S. Senate candidates).
In early October, Clinton campaigned throughout the Philadelphia suburbs with her daughter Chelsea Clinton and actress (and Penn grad) Elizabeth Banks. Chelsea has been back to the area a handful of times, and the Clinton campaign’s presence in the area was strong. Their goal was to flip college-educated voters — specifically women — who have voted in the past for Republicans in an effort to sweep the ‘burbs and win Pennsylvania.
But Trump’s presence in the area was strong, too. His daughter Ivanka Trump held a “Coffee with Ivanka” event on the Main Line at a hotel called The Desmond. And last week, Trump’s wife Melania gave a speech in Berwyn that was her first speaking event since the Republican National Convention, after it was discovered that part of her speech had been plagiarized from one delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama.
His efforts surely didn’t go unnoticed in the Philadelphia suburbs. But it’s unclear if they’ll matter in the end. Polls have consistently showed Clinton leading there — one Franklin and Marshall poll in August showed she was up by a staggering 40 points there.
Still, there are plenty of female voters in the Philadelphia suburbs who will cast votes for Trump today. And they say that their voices have been largely ignored throughout the duration of this long election cycle.
Verrecchia, while waiting in line for that Newtown Trump rally, summed up why she felt she was ignored by media and pollsters that were fixated on Clinton: “You only ever hear her side.”